It was just yesterday. I was heading to Alta, like I've done ten thousand times before, to snap a picture of a girl's softball game. I hadn't even gotten out of town yet when I was flagged down by a road crew dude with all the personality of a snapping turtle and half the speed.
They were using a "pilot car" to stagger traffic around a spot where they were filling a crack in the road, oh, say, 10 feet long, yet somehow extending the round trip into what seemed to be an hour or so.
Nice. I'm supposed to be in four different towns at this exact moment, I'm idling off gas that's more expensive than don perignon and they break kneecaps if I don't make newspaper deadline, you know.
Cars in front, cars in back. Can't get past Seabiscuit of the Iowa DOT up there, and not enough room to turn around. Ahhh, the smell of diesel exhaust in the evening. Nothing to do for it but ram a little something in the CD player - "Waiting For My Real Life to Begin" - kick off my shoes and wait it out.
"And I awoke today; suddenly, nothing happened... but in my dreams, I slew the dragons..."
With a start, I realized that there was a little gravel road veering off to the side, hidden just beyond the church. All the trips I've made, all the deadlines I've barely made and narrowly missed, I've not noticed, never turned off on that road - don't even know where it would go. But I suddenly have a dizzy urge to gun it, throwing gravel and odd notes from Colin Hay, to take another road out of here and just keep going.
It's all very Robert Frostian. Must be the diesel fumes getting to me.
I imagine it might wander around through peaceful green fields, eventually hooking up with another road, crossing rivers; and another, slipping through mountains. Disappeared, not a trace, they would say. That's not like him at all. Before I know it, I'm in Saskatchewan... no, wait, Islamorda is more my style.
On a corner stool, just under the lazy ceiling fan stirring the smoke in a seaside bar, I'm writing the Great American Novel - on a napkin. A parrot perches in front of me on a champagne glass, sporting a tiny eye patch. The warm summer breeze guides me, still barefoot, down a beach I've never seen before. A shadowy man who looks something like the DOT guy nods to me and beckons me to step onto an old seaplane. It seems like a Bogey moment, so I whisper, "Here's looking at you, kid" to no one in particular. We fly off into the moonlight. Suddenly there are machine guns and danger abounds, but I land a right cross on the shadow man, pry open a hatch door and hurl myself out into the starry night over the Atlantic, in a crisp white linen sport coat. Next thing I know, a dolphin, I think it is, is nudging me to a piece of driftwood as I slip in and out of consciousness.
"We have been waiting for you. What took you so long to come this way?" it said, with a dolphiny smile. I come to, on a deserted stretch of island beach. I search my pockets and find only my pocketknife keychain and a giggling starfish. I stow the former away for safekeeping, and return the other to the shallow water, and I start to walk, not knowing in what direction. I slip into deep jungle; oddly, disappearing into a scene from the napkin novel. Suddenly, a beautiful woman with long dark hair and sad, bottomless eyes is running in my direction. She says nothing, but I understand that something amazing is happening up ahead, and I am needed. The sun-drenched sand burns my soles, not in a bad way, as I push on up the dune. The woman, a crowd of children laughing and crying out in exotic strains of French and Spanish and tongues I can't identify, lean old men with white beards on old bicycles, all hurrying, somewhere... I follow. It could be tomorrow, or a thousand years ago, I have lost track. They have disappeared just beyond a stone wall that looks straight out of ancient Maya. I am weakened from my adventures; it takes me a moment to pull myself over.
I find myself looking into the deep eyes from impossibly close. "Where are we?" I ask. "Can you tell me what is happening here?"
There is a secret glimmer from deep in her eyes - shining like stars. Steel drum music faint in the background. The children, clad in their colorful clothing, gather around my legs and jostle me excitedly. I could swear I see the shadow man, under a palm tree, on the fringe of it all, there - just up there? Do you see him? He's looking at me and slowing coming my way, reaching for something under his jacket. Things start to get a bit fuzzy. The woman's lips form a slight smile. She slowly opens them, a flower blossoming near my ear, to softly enlighten...
"HEY! YOUSE, MAC. YOU GONNA GET GOIN OR YOU GONNA SIT THERE ALL FREAKIN DAY OR WHAT?!"
With a start, I'm back in the dusty hot Jeep with my camera bag. The DOT guy with the bad attitude and the less-than-ideal sentence structure has stuck his unshaven face in the car window, and impatiently waves me on toward Alta.
The song has played itself over and over, how many times, I can't say. I drive on. There are softball photos to take, deadlines to meet, modest paychecks to earn and people counting on me to act somewhat responsibly.
But I slow down as I pass the gravel road to who knows where, and look down it for as far as my eyes can see.